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Texas Executing Inmates at Near-Record Pace

Aug. 7 execution date set for inmate who claims mental retardation

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012

Texas Executing Inmates at Near-Record Pace

Continuing a pace of executions that, if it holds, would nearly tie 2010's 17 executions), on Aug. 7 Texas is slated to put to death Marvin Lee Wilson, sent to death row in 1998 for the 1992 murder of a police informant in Beaumont.

Wilson had one previous date with the death chamber, but it was withdrawn after a question was raised about whether Wilson is mentally retarded, which would violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment, per a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Initially, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wilson's claim of mental retardation couldn't be heard because his lawyer had missed a deadline for filing an appeal. The decision was widely criticized, and the appeals court ultimately reversed its ruling, allowing Wilson's claims to be raised in federal court. Still, Wilson has not been able to meet the burden for proving mental deficiency, which includes showing that his low IQ existed before he turned 18. In 2004, lawyers presented evidence that Wilson's IQ was 61; a 1971 test measured it at 73, and in 1987 it was recorded as 75. However one of Wilson's current attorneys, Lee Kovarsky, says that the previous tests were not comprehensive, and thus not dispositive of whether Wilson is actually mentally retarded. Wilson has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a stay of execution. At issue is whether the state's test for determining mental retardation is sufficient to satisfy the constitution.

Wilson would be the 483rd inmate executed in Texas since reinstatement of the death penalty, the 245th executed on Gov. Rick Perry's watch, and the seventh this year. Through mid-November, the state has seven more executions scheduled. (The Aug. 1 execution of Marcus Druery was stayed by the Court of Criminal Appeals late last week, on grounds that he may be incompetent; see "Is Druery Sane Enough To Die?," Newsdesk blog, July 24.

In other news from death row, inmate Selwyn Davis, convicted in 2006 in Austin of the murder of his girlfriend's mother, Regina Lara, was found dead in his prison cell on July 20. According to Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark, correctional officers conducting a routine security check in the Polunsky Unit found Davis "lying unresponsive on the floor of his cell." They began life-saving measures and Davis was taken by ambulance to the Livingston Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead just after 10pm. The cause of death is unknown, and it will likely be several weeks before autopsy results are known. TDCJ's Office of the Inspector General is investigating the death, which is standard procedure, Clark wrote in an email.

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